Patient care and safe staffing are central issues for workers in contract negotiations.
A relieved group of 1199SEIU members at Hudson Park Nursing Home in Albany, NY unanimously ratified a collective bargaining agreement in April, after a year of negotiations, meetings, candlelight vigils, and informational picketing.
The nursing home is owned and operated by Upstate Services Group (USG), which acquired the former Julie Blair Nursing Home in 2011.
Despite the fact USG is known for taking over upstate New York nursing homes and cutting staff and benefits, members negotiated an agreement they say will improve quality of life for workers, their families and residents. “We provide services and care to people who are ill—we have to be healthy when we come to work. All it takes is one illness to bankrupt your family, so you need insurance. And now, who knows what will happen in Washington,” said negotiating committee member Radcliffe McPherson. “I paid for the employer’s insurance, even though the premiums were so high it meant that I barely had anything left in my paycheck to pay my bills.”
“Under the new contract almost immediately my weekly premium will be reduced from $47 to $23. That’s $96 more a month that I will have,” added McPherson, a dietary worker at Hudson Park for more than two decades.
Hudson Park’s negotiating committee continuously cited high staff turnover at the institution.
“Who suffers when there is frequent staff turnover? Our residents who depend on quality continuity of care.” said negotiating committee member Sharmaine Allen, a CNA. “This contract takes a big step in the right direction toward being able to maintain staff.”
In addition to significant improvements in health benefits, the agreement includes annual raises, inclusion in the 1199SEIU Training and Upgrading Fund and improvements in personal time and other time off. The 160-member bargaining unit includes certified nursing assistants, recreation aides, dietary, laundry and environmental and services workers.
Workers at Alameda Care Center in Perth Amboy, NJ averted a strike planned for May 17 and were ratifying a new contract instead of walking a picket line planned for the day. Workers at the institution were fighting for better staffing and a contract guaranteeing them a path to $15 an hour. The institution was previously owned by Aristacare and came under new ownership in April 2016. Workers at Alameda have been fighting for better standards since then; they say staffing is imperative to provide the kind of care their residents need and the jobs demand.
“ We love our jobs, we love our residents, but if co-workers are leaving for better wages and benefits, continuity of care for our residents suffers.”
“We’re here to fight for better wages, a better insurance plan and respect,” said Alameda CNA Olajuwon Jackson at an April 6 informational picket. “We are not robots. We are human beings!” Workers at Wingate at Dutchess and Wingate at Ulster nursing homes can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It has been more than two years since the workers, seeking economic security and a voice on the job, voted to join 1199SEIU.
“Our victory is certainly not just being handed to us and we didn’t expect it would be. You have to fight for what is right — being patient helps too,” said Gwendolyn Jones, a CNA at Wingate at Ulster.
At press time, Wingate workers are close to the end of a hard won struggle: a contract. The workers are waiting anxiously for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Washington, D.C. to sign off on a small piece of the settlement that’s been agreed to by the negotiating committee and employer. In the meantime, they are about to achieve their most important—and at one time most distant—goals: a path to economic security with guaranteed wage increases and a lump sum bonus.
Wingate workers were burdened by the price of health benefits; the hope is that the final agreement will ease that difficulty by reducing the cost of premiums in the first few years. The employer has also agreed to participate in the 1199SEIU Greater New York Benefit Fund in 2020, when members will have little to no premiums, no deductibles, zero to minimal co-pays and excellent prescription dental and vision care benefits.
Negotiating committee Maxine Sproul, a CNA at Wingate at Dutchess was pragmatic about the delay on the road to a final contract. “We know we will get past this bump, and that it’s just a matter of time, maybe even a few days. We have been knocked down so many times,” she said. “Over the last few years we have distributed petitions, walked in to management and held a candlelight vigil with good community support. Each time, our voices got louder and our message clearer.”
Wingate workers repeated that message many times over the course of their effort as a demonstration of their commitment to quality care.
“We love our jobs, we love our residents” Sproul said. “But if coworkers are leaving for better wages and benefits, continuity of care for our residents suffers. We are confident that our hard-fought contract, with good wages and benefits and fair workplace provisions, will help Wingate maintain staff, reduce turnover, and enrich overall quality care for our residents.” Additionally, the employer agreed to not interfere with the efforts of workers at Wingate at Beacon to join 1199SEIU. The Beacon facility is one of 3 nursing homes in the Hudson Valley owned and operated by Wingate Healthcare.
Sign-off from the NLRB and contract ratification for were expected by June 30.